HONG KONG (REUTERS) – Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang, the highest-ranking ex-official to be charged in the city’s history, was convicted on Friday (Feb 17) of misconduct in public office.
His conviction adds to a number of scandals ensnaring powerful officials that have marred Hong Kong’s reputation as a relatively corruption-free society, while posing a challenge for China’s leaders who have strived to maintain stability in Hong Kong since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The nine-person jury found Tsang failed to disclose private rental negotiations with property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting licence for a now defunct radio company, Wave Media, in which Wong was a major shareholder.
Tsang, who had a long and stellar career in diverse senior posts in the Asian financial hub before and after the 1997 handover, was acquitted of a second misconduct charge. The jury also failed to reach a majority decision on a separate bribery charge.
Tsang, 72, had pleaded not guilty to one count of accepting an advantage and two counts of misconduct in public office between 2010 and 2012.
He faces a possible seven-year sentence. Sentencing will take place later but the court announced no date. Tsang was granted bail and was expected to appear at a hearing on Monday.
It was not immediately clear whether Tsang would appeal.
In another high-profile case, Tsang ally and former chief secretary Rafael Hui, and billionaire tycoon, Thomas Kwok, a former co-head of Asia’s largest property company, Sun Hung Kai, were found guilty of bribery and jailed in late 2014.
Friday’s verdict followed six weeks of testimony from witnesses including Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary who is in the running for the city’s leadership election next month.
Tsang, who was dressed in a dark suit and a burgundy bow tie, emerged from the court flanked by his wife and family, looking sombre after the verdict was handed down. He gave no initial comment and was driven away.
HOT WATER IN TWILIGHT OF CAREER
Tsang was accused of accepting refurbishment and decoration work on a three-storey penthouse in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that he had rented from the Shenzhen East Pacific Group, owned by Wong, but the jury failed to reach a majority decision on this charge after deliberating for nearly two days.
The second misconduct charge was in connection with Tsang’s nomination for a government award of an architect who had carried out design work on the Shenzhen penthouse. He was acquitted of that charge.
Tsang, who served in various posts including Hong Kong’s financial secretary and later as its second post-1997 chief executive, found himself embroiled in hot water at the twilight of his career.
The graft offences Tsang faced were alleged to have occurred between 2010 and 2012, the year he retired as chief executive.
“Because of my personal mishandling of matters, in shaking public confidence in Hong Kong’s (civil service) to be incorrupt and honest in performing one’s duties, and in causing disappointment towards civil servants, I once again wholeheartedly apologise to everyone,” an emotional Tsang told reporters in 2012.
His comments came after reports surfaced of lavish spending on overseas duty visits, and trips with tycoons by private jet and luxury yacht.
Tsang and his defence had stressed his years of upstanding public service during the trial. They maintained that he had done nothing wrong, and only wanted to create a quiet, retirement residence for himself and his wife in Shenzhen, insisting he had rented it at market rates.
Prosecutor David Perry, however, described Tsang in court as a “greedy” man who had abused his office for personal gain.
Some politicians welcomed the verdict. “The court sends a very clear message to the public that no one is above the law,” said Lam Cheuk Ting, a former ICAC investigator and pro-democracy lawmaker.
A devout Catholic, Tsang was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his distinguished public service under the British colonial administration before 1997.